When a desolate ranch wife says that her husband is on the wagon, she’s not talking about sobriety. Right now, all the cowboys at the O RO Ranch are camped out with the wagon (which is actually a pickup truck) for spring branding. They get a couple days off about every two weeks, during which the single guys go to town and fall off the other wagon. The married guys go home and traumatize their wives with their dirty laundry.
While my husband, Jim, sleeps in a bedroll and eats his dinner off a tin plate around a campfire, I’m tasked with single handedly holding down the fort. We live 2 ½ hours from town and one hour from our nearest neighbor, so staying here alone with two small children presents unique challenges.
For instance, I didn’t realize how much I relied on my husband’s daily presence until the first time I tried to reach a box of cereal on the top shelf. I also have to shoulder his normal duties, like starting the generator, feeding the livestock, and telling other members of the household to turn off the light in they’re not in the room 1,437 times a day.
The hardest part about living (albeit temporarily) on a remote ranch with no adult company is the what if’s.
What if I fall and break my leg while I’m outside with the kids?
Then I’ll call 911. It’s only a 10-minute helicopter ride to town.
What if I get a flat tire while driving on this rocky dirt road?
Then I’ll change it. My dad taught me how to do that before I left home.
What if the kids gang up and tie me to a chair?
Then I guess I should’ve let them blow bubbles in their chocolate milk.
What if the low-flying aircraft that frequent this region are actually extraterrestrial vessels carrying aliens who sense that the man of the house is absent, land behind the barn, ask me a million questions about life on Earth, then scream, yell and throw random objects at me when I don’t respond because I can’t decipher their garbled language?
Then I will take away their cookies and give them a time-out. I’m currently raising my second toddler, so that scenario doesn’t even faze me.
The one scenario that fazes me while solo parenting off the grid is What if the generator doesn’t start? We rely on it for electricity on cloudy days to run the washing machine when the solar panels are insufficient. It pumps water when the windmill won’t. It is a lifeline to an easier existence out here down 50 miles of dirt road, and I have no idea what to do if it doesn’t start when I yank the cord. My troubleshooting skills consist solely of asking myself “Does it have gas?” and telling the kids “Stay back and don’t smell the fumes. No, seriously, step back. GET BACK RIGHT NOW OR I WILL END YOU.”
Jim is scheduled to return home for a couple of days off this weekend. He’ll bring hugs for the kids, a kiss for me, and a big bag of sweaty, smelly, dirty clothes. And he will ask me to please wash them.
If I’m lucky, no one will be able to start the generator.
While I’m rehearsing what I will say to the alien invaders and wrestling with portable electricity sources, this is where Jim and the rest of the cowboy crew on the RO’s take their meals. It’s a pretty sweet oasis on the desert.